Phillies committed to rebuild, won't go for quick fixes

Phillies committed to rebuild, won't go for quick fixes

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies upgraded their bullpen this winter with the signings of Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter.

They bettered their offense with the signing of Carlos Santana, the injection of J.P. Crawford’s on-base percentage. And a full season of Rhys Hoskins won’t hurt.

The glaring area of need for this team remains the starting pitching rotation.

The team added to its inventory of starters when it signed veteran right-hander Drew Hutchison to a minor-league contract on Thursday. The former Toronto Blue Jay will join a long list of candidates to win a spot at the back end of the rotation.

“It’s a good depth move for us but it doesn't end our search for additional starting pitching,” general manager Matt Klentak said.

Klentak had been looking to add starting pitching all winter. There is enough of it available as Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn and others remain on the slow-moving free-agent market.

Arrieta is a former National League Cy Young award winner, but the time does not seem right for this rebuilding team to make a run at him. The right-hander will pitch at 32 this season and is said to be seeking a deal of six years or more. Length of contract is a serious consideration for this team. When Santana hit the free-agent market in November, he was said to be seeking a six- or seven-year deal. The Phils had no stomach for that. When he came down to three years, they pounced.

If the (length of) contract demands of the remaining free agents come down, the Phillies could add another pitcher in the coming weeks. If they don’t, Klentak is comfortable with the group that has been assembled.

“We’re open to adding a starter if it makes sense for us, but even if we don’t, we are confident that this starting pitching group is going to take a step forward because they are really talented and they’re healthy,” Klentak said. “We’re watching them here and they look great.

“The starting pitching market being as slow to develop as it has been has allowed us to get to Clearwater and watch our guys and evaluate them and see the look in their eye and see the electricity in their pitches and regain that confidence in our young starting pitching.”

Aaron Nola lines up to start on opening day. Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez will be in the rotation. Nick Pivetta seems to have a good shot after making 25 starts last season. Ben Lively made a good showing last year. He’s a tough competitor and will make a strong run at winning a spot, but so will Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson, Mark Leiter, Tom Eshelman and Hutchison.

As much as new manager Gabe Kapler would love a top starter dropped in his lap, he, like his bosses, remains committed to the development process that has gone hand in hand with this rebuild.

“You’re always looking to upgrade,” he said. “But there has to be a balance. If you bring in someone, a young arm might not get an opportunity.”

Not long ago, the Phillies had some of the top payrolls in the game. From 2012 to 2014, they spent over a half-billion on payroll (only the Yankees and Dodgers spent more in the time) and did not make the playoffs in any of those seasons. That led to the current rebuild, which has been marked by disciplined roster construction.

“We’re open to anything,” Klentak said. “But the dollars and the years and the player fit would have to be right. We’re not going to compromise on our evaluation and where we see the franchise right now. We’re not going to do something that doesn’t make sense for this organization."

That will continue.

“We’ve gone through this rebuild and acknowledged that it was going to be painful for a few years," Klentak said. "It has been. We’re not going to do anything to compromise the future of that. We’re going to continue to do this right. If there’s something that makes sense, I know the owners will support it economically. It’s up to us to bring that to them if we see fit. And if we don’t, we’re excited about the group we have here. We have ways we think we’re going to help this group continue to improve. Either way, it’s going to be a fun year.”

Phillies take long look at Roman Quinn as potential backup SS

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Phillies take long look at Roman Quinn as potential backup SS


FORT MYERS, Fla. — However the Phillies’ bench shapes up — whether it features four or five men during the first week of the regular season — one thing is a must:

“We need somebody who can play shortstop, absolutely,” manager Gabe Kapler said.

“We need someone who can play multiple positions in the infield on our bench and someone who can play multiple positions in our outfield on the bench. That’s a necessity.”

Kapler has taken a long look at Roman Quinn at shortstop the last two days. Quinn played four innings there Sunday against the Twins. He was there for the entire game Monday against the Red Sox.

Quinn grew up playing shortstop and outfield. He broke into pro ball as a shortstop but moved to center field during the 2014 season, when it became clear that J.P. Crawford was the shortstop of the future. Now, Quinn is relearning the shortstop position so he can potentially serve as a utility man on the Phillies’ bench. He’d be an intriguing talent to have on the bench because he’s a switch-hitter with electrifying speed.

As a shortstop, the Phillies won’t be looking for Quinn to be a Gold Glover. They need someone to make the play on an emergency or fill-in basis. Quinn made three plays in Monday’s game. He short-hopped one throw and Carlos Santana made the pick. He knocked down one ball, recovered and made a strong throw for an out. He made a nice play on a groundball while shifted behind second. It wasn't the prettiest exhibition, but it got the job done.

“The more I play there, the more comfortable I’m getting,” Quinn said. “I’m enjoying it. I’d like to think I can play any position. It’s fun coming in from center field and playing shortstop. I love it.”

Quinn turns 25 in May. Some schools of thought might come down against carrying a player of his potential as a reserve. Certainly, more time in Triple A would not hurt him, especially after missing more than three months with an elbow injury last year. But the Phillies are open to the possibility of carrying Quinn. His shortstop audition the last two days has made that clear.

“Everyday reps at the minor-league level are incredibly valuable,” Kapler said. “However, because a guy is on the bench at the major-league level doesn’t mean his development is stunted. He’s getting a different kind of experience and a really valuable experience.”

Tom Eshelman was charged with four runs in the bottom of the ninth as the Phils squandered a three-run lead and lost, 6-5, to Boston.

Aaron Altherr drove in four runs. He belted a three-run homer in the fifth inning against Boston ace Chris Sale. Cesar Hernandez grinded out a long at-bat before striking out and Santana and Rhys Hoskins both walked before the home run.

“When you have a guy like Sale, making him work is critical,” Kapler said. “Cesar’s punchout was an incredible at-bat. Santana and Hoskins made him work. [Sale] gets a little fatigued and Altherr gets a pitch to whack. So Altherr hitting a home run doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens as a result of team baseball.”

Jake Arrieta is ready for game action; Mark Leiter Jr. is hurting

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Jake Arrieta is ready for game action; Mark Leiter Jr. is hurting

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Good news, bad news on the Phillies’ pitching front.

The good: Jake Arrieta will make his first Grapefruit League appearance of the spring when he gets the start Thursday against the Detroit Tigers in Clearwater.

Arrieta signed with the Phillies a week ago and threw a simulated game Saturday (see story). He will throw a side bullpen session Tuesday then be ready for Thursday’s start. It's still not clear when he will make his regular-season debut. Arrieta believes he will be ready to pitch during the first week of the season. Phillies management is taking a long-range view and will exercise caution in turning him loose. Either way, Arrieta projects to make 30 or more starts once he’s ready.

Now, the bad news:

Pitcher Mark Leiter Jr. headed to Philadelphia for tests on his right forearm. Leiter has been experiencing some tightness and soreness in the forearm, according to manager Gabe Kapler.

This is tough news for Leiter, who early in camp had impressed management with his performance and ability to pitch in a starting or relief role. Ten days before opening day, it’s likely that Leiter will have to open the season on the disabled list.

Starter Jerad Eickhoff will open the season on the DL with a right lat strain. It is not considered serious, but he is projected to be out into May.